What is the purpose of Open Mic’s?

If you’ve been following my BLOG you would know that I have been active in the local Open Mic community for several years now. The experience has been fun but also educational. Some hosts have it down to a science where others …

The best Open Mic’s are ones where the host actively promotes and encourages guests to fight back their stage fright and share their talent. This makes for a friendly atmosphere where musicians can bond and nurture new talent. Music and performing is not something that you just know how to do, it takes years of practise.

Some times people try really hard and they just can’t seem to find their place, but there are the diamonds like a 14 year old girl that showed up in her cut offs and cowboy boots and hammered out three songs that were written before she was born, like she had been doing it all her life.

I’ve watched hosts coach talent and develop it into acts worthy of their own stage.

That’s what Open Mic’s are for. Coaching, Bonding, Discovering, Entertaining and developing. The venues get free entertainment and fill seats with friends and family.

Unfortunately I’ve seen the other side of Open Mic’s as well. There are a few venues in my area where hosts use Open Mic’s to promote their friends and their own talent. These venues are not really open and hard to break into. I’ve also seen venues that advertise Open Mic’s where all of the talent is pre-selected and filtered to appeal to the audience.

I like being part of a support network for new and developing talent so I avoid the non-open Open Mic’s.

Check out my earlier BLOG posts for some of my favourite places in the Ottawa area and support your local musicians.

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Live from Mexico

The last time I was in Mexico City I was talking to a friend about the Open Mic tour that I did in Ottawa. He suggested that I do an open mic in Mexico City.

I was in Mexico city this week so on Wednesday night I talked a bunch of people into going to the Black Horse for their Open Mic. It was a nice venue with a collection of local talent that were all quite impressive. There were people from Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, the USA and Canada. I know I said it was local talent well they all live in Mexico city now (Except me). There was a mix of English and Spanish songs, originals and covers and food and drinks.

I brought my voicelive pedal and some cables, borrowed a guitar and sang three songs.

Summer Breeze, South City Midnight Lady and the A-Team.

If I come back I will definitely do it again.

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The 2017 Open-Mic Tour

Night 1 -The Royal Oak in Kanata

My wife and Daughter decided that they wanted to do a Mother-Daughter trip so while they were away I took the opportunity to check out a different open-mic venue in the Ottawa area every night.

You might think that this would be a really fun thing for a performer to do, but it was actually a bit nerve racking. Each night there was a different host, different equipment and different crowds. I had one crowd where the average age was 70 and another one where the average age was 25.

It was good practice for changing up your set list on the fly.

All of the Venues turned out to be different but very welcoming and when it was all said and done, it was a lot of fun.

Night 2: Daniel O’Connell’s

 

If you were following me on Facebook or Instagram you would have seen the pictures. For those of you who don’t have me on social media, here are the highlights.

Sunday night was the only night where I could not find a place to play. Most of the Sunday night venues had been discontinued for the summer months.

Night 3: Grumpy’s Pub

 

Night 4: Stittsville Legion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night 5: Hurley’s Pub

Night 7: Woody’s Pub on Elgin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night 6 was a bust…

Night 8: Back at the Royal Oak in Kanata

 

Night 9: The Art house Cafe

 

 

 

 

 

Night 10: The waterside gastro pub in Carleton Place

 

 

Night 11: Prime Burger Bar

 

 

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Aged to Perfection!

Many of my friends tell me that they are “Too Old” to do something. It seems that the human race front loads our expectations with respect to life.

What am I talking about? Well, we are told by our parents, friends and colleagues that we should enjoy various aspects of life while we still can. No one tells you that you need to wait to enjoy something.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I plan to enjoy life right up until the last few milliseconds. In order to do that, I will have to stay active and I expect that will get harder, so I’m preparing myself now. That aside, there is more to it than that.

What I recently realized is that in some cases we are missing the point with respect to aging and experiencing life. There are somethings that we cannot enjoy when we are young. In fact there are many things where timing is critical to maximizing the experience and if we are focusing on what we have lost as we age, we will miss them.

I hear you saying WTF, but consider this. I was born with a hyperactive sense of smell and taste. I could not use butter if someone else had used a knife with mustard on it to butter something. I could taste and smell the mustard and I found it overpowering.

Add fifty years to that same situation and we find that my senses have decreased and now I can enjoy many different types of mustards and other strong tastes and smells. In fact, I can now enjoy single malt scotch, something I couldn’t do when I was young. I can taste the subtle differences and appreciate the art involved.

Some people would say “I have acquired a taste for these things”, but that is not so in my case. I had to wait until my body was ready.

What else falls in this category? What other things in life require a change in your body to appreciate? Senses are continuously changing and we know that our bodies compensate. A blind person for example, will most likely have much sharper hearing. Does this happen with people in their “Golden Years” ?

Then there is the fact that we gain experience as we travel through life. When we heard a sound as a child, we could not appreciate it because we didn’t know what it was. With a life time of experience we can do things like pick out spices from the taste of our food and predict the weather by subtle changes in our environment. We can walk in a forest and hear different types of birds.

I have noticed that the changes in our bodies are different for each person and also seem to follow trends based on gender. This could be evolutionary based on historical gender roles. I’ve noticed that many women have their sense of smell become more acute with age. As a scientist I have to constantly ask the question why?

I challenge you to help me to build a road map or guideline to identify different experiences and what age we need to be to maximize that experience.

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Active Listening

I was going to say It’s funny how … but it’s really not funny how time effects our ability to really listen and understand what people are saying.

When we listen to poetry or music, we can spend days or weeks trying to get the real meaning behind a lyric. In some cases writers have been know to stump listeners for years by creating lyrics that rhyme, but have no real meaning. Nik Kershaw wrote a song called “The Riddle” with beautiful lyrics that seemed like a real puzzle. He let people ponder over it for years before he admitted that there was no riddle, just words that rhyme.

If we can spend so much time trying to understand a lyric, why do we not spend as much time trying to understand what people are saying to us? I am as guilty as anyone else when it comes to this. I hear a person say something and my brain automatically picks what it thinks the meaning should be and I run with that. With some people it seems to work, but I have discovered that sometimes those people are just being polite and I have totally missed the point.

I was speaking to a phycologist friend recently who told me that the longer you know someone, the more likely you are to misinterpret what they say. We as humans tend to pigeon hole people and associate meaning with what we expect a person to say. As people evolve, our perception of the people does not always track, so we stop being able to effectively communicate.

This is not what I would have expected. With some work colleagues that speak publicly, I can usually tell you what they are going to say before they say it and I am right 90% of the time. I would have thought that the longer you know someone, the better you would be at predicting their behaviour. Turns out, this is not the case.

I suspect that there is some happy medium where we can improve our listening and analysis skills without taking hours to complete a conversation. That said, it wouldn’t hurt to stop every now and then to ask for clarification.

You may find you don’t really know who you are talking to.

Posted in General, Thinking out loud, Writing | 1 Comment

Kanata North BIA Magazine

The latest copy of the Kanata North BIA Networker magazine is out and there is another article in the Serious Techie series…

https://e.issuu.com/embed.html#17914149/48919812

Check it out

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The Virtual Reality

Over the past three years I have come to rely more and more on virtual machines. Virtual machines allow me to create snapshots of development and product environments that are easy to backup and share with others. What this means from a hardware point of view, is that I need more cores and more memory. It is not uncommon for me to be running anywhere from 2 to 8 virtual machines at any given time.

In each case the VM’s have to be configured to share the resources available on the host while leaving enough behind for the host OS. The work that I am doing at the moment requires target VM’s, Development VM’s and Product VM’s.

Some vendors were prepared for the Virtual Reality and have designed their platforms such that they can be easily expanded to accommodate more memory and cores. Surprisingly Apple is not one of these companies. I find this particularly difficult because my MacBook Pro is my main development machine.

I end up running VM’s on my company supplied windows laptop and a Dell T7500 server in our lab. That may be coming to an end though as companies try to wrestle virtual machines out of the hands of developers. It seems that IT departments in some bigger companies feel that they need to manage all virtual machines. It makes some sense in that IT departments generally have access to bigger systems that would be better suited to host VM’s.

I use VM’s to increase my productivity and moving control of those VM’s to people that are not at my beckoned call, will have the opposite effect with respect to productivity. I need to spin up and down VM’s at a moments notice and I need to be able to switch out OS’s, reconfigure networks and download and deploy VM’s from other vendors.

Some companies are restricting the virtual world further by restricting the environments where VM’s run. I and most of the rest of the development world uses the very popular VirtualBox environment from Oracle. I have recently been working with OpenStack and companies like Mirantis provide a quick start evaluation that contains four prepackaged VirtualBox VM’s. Their package automatically deploys the VM’s, configures the networks and spins up a cloud environment in minutes.

I have evaluated a number of environments like VMWare, VirtualBox and OpenStack and VirtualBox is perhaps the most up to date and functional for developers. Unfortunately VirtualBox seems to be under attack by IT departments who have invested heavily in VMWare. In the end it probably won’t matter as the world moves to Network Function Virtualization which is based on OpenStack.

For the time being however, the virtual reality is VirtualBox and developers need more cores and memory!

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What does it mean to be a software professional?

I’ve been reading a lot about what it means to be a “Software Professional” recently and I find it quite fascinating. The book that I am currently reading suggests that software professionals should treat their jobs the same way that medical professionals treat theirs. By that I mean that every deliverable should be completely defect free and should do no harm.

On the surface this seems like an obvious statement, but in actual fact, that’s not how the industry has been operating. Software designers are rarely given enough time to do the work necessary to test and refactor their work. The reality is more like every project is behind schedule by the time it is presented to the design team and the designer has to draw on magic to get things back on track.

What is magic you ask?

Magic is a compromise between quality and cost that produces a suboptimal result. There are a lot of outside factors that influence quality and depending on the application, quality may not be an issue. A “Proof of Concept” for a trade show is a good example of a situation where quality takes a back seat to “On time delivery”.  In these situations however we must be very clear that this kind of code is fragile and purpose built with a very short life expectancy.

I find that life is very rarely black and white, but when it comes to software design, I’m a big fan of Test Driven Design (TDD) for all projects that contain code with a life expectancy greater than a few months. For a good description of TDD, check out “The Clean Coder” by Robert Martin.

Robert or “Uncle Bob” has summarized a number of scenarios in the first few chapters of his book that every software designer should read. He has drawn on his 40+ years in the industry to craft responses to a number of common situations that most of us have experienced. Let me know what you think.

 

 

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WFH: Work From Home

Every morning I get copied on emails from people who have decided to Work From Home (WFH) that day. It took me quite a while to accept WFH as a valid alternative to being in the office. I understand that some large US companies have decided that WFH doesn’t actually work and have instituted a requirement for people to spend a number of hours in the office each week. In some extreme cases, I understand that employee’s are being told to relocate closer to an office or resign.

There are a number of advantages to being close to people when you are working on a project, but all of those examples generally create a work environment that is less than ideal. I know that when I work at home my efficiency increases by a surprising amount. That said there are different kinds of distractions like dishes, laundry, etc and it takes conscious effort to remind yourself that you are a professional and your time is not entirely your own.

I’m noticing a backward trend south of the boarder in many different areas, so I’m not surprised that this trend has started to effect technology workers. I think that this trend actually gives the rest of the world a chance to lead through example. I have adjusted my position on WFH and I believe that we may actually see companies spending a lot less on physical buildings. High speed, always on, network connections make distributed work forces actually work.

How do I know that WFH is working for my company?

In order for this approach to work, employees have to be able to connect ad hoc, with little or no notice. Employers may impose new requirements with respect to being reachable and we may see response times tracked as a metric. An unreachable employee doesn’t add a lot of value.

It will take some companies time to understand what WFH means for their people. It is not uncommon for companies to have concerns about employees working from home. A colleague of mine pointed out recently that if you don’t trust your employees, why did you hire them?

In a previous post, I suggested that work environment is something that will help retain employees and is actually valued more than salary in many cases. WFH gives the company a way to save on infrastructure and the employee a way to improve their work environment.

Sounds like a win – win to me.

 

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Is it time for a general compensation review?

It’s been my experience that the quantity of tech jobs tends to cycle between feast and famine. We seem to be entering a feast period where the number of jobs exceeds the number of candidates. Couple that with the fact that our economic system seems to balance wages to match the job demand and you have the makings of a perfect storm.

I’ve been eating out more lately for lunch and that’s not because I enjoy eating out, it’s because there have been so many farewell lunches. Tech workers in the trenches are the first to move because they are just starting their careers and they are the most attractive to employers. Let’s call this stage 1. Their skills are fresh and they have enough experience to contribute from day one. They tend to be the people that get forgotten when times are lean so employer’s don’t have to offer large increases to get them to jump.

When that well runs dry or when you need experience to guide the team, employers move up the food chain to attract people with more experience. Let’s call this stage 2. If employers don’t have their people locked in through stock options or competitive salaries and bonuses, the shell game continues.

I was speaking to a tech company CEO last weekend and he said that with the exception of the new grads that should be available in a few weeks, Stage 2 is already happening.

So what can you do to protect yourself from high employee turnover? Well some of the things that we talked about already, stock options, competitive salaries, bonuses, better work environments, more vacation, flexible work hours and locations, etc.

Tech workers are not your typical employees. They tend to be less motivated by cold hard cash and more motivated by work environment, interesting things to work on, career development, travel and the list goes on. Compensation does play a role, but t0 increase the output of your team, you have to do more.

There will be cases where it’s time to move on in order to advance a career and there is not much that an employer can do about that other than to say thank you for your service and all the best in your future endeavours.

I did come across a good book a couple of months back that I blogged about already though. Check out “The Alliance” by one of the founders of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman. Reid suggests that what worked at LinkedIn was to treat every employee as a contract worker in that they have something to offer the company and the company has something to offer them. He calls these fixed periods “tours of duty”. It allows the employee and employer to have a clear understanding of what is expected and the fixed term bounds everything.

Many employees sign up for back-to-back tours of duty, but others do their tour and move on. If an employer wants to retain a key employee, they are motived to offer that person something that will help them achieve their life goals. I was fascinated as I read because I would love to work in a place like that.

In any case, the tech industry is entering a shake down period, so if you don’t want to suffer from  (brain drain and retrain), it’s time to make a change.

Posted in Technology Trends, Thinking out loud | 1 Comment